Thursday, April 23, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop Here

We continue our exploration of the California drought for Earth Week. See our first post here.

Just about a mile from the casinos of South Lake Tahoe, there's a Forest Service park where you can hike and get wonderous views of the lake, the forest, and Taylor Creek. It's a wonderful trail, beautiful really, where you can get lost from the nearby city.  Along the trail is a short detour. Follow it, and you'll end up in an underground chamber.

This is the Stream Profile Chamber, a pool where a portion of Taylor Creek has been diverted and a large, glass window allows visitors to watch the life underwater here. Trout, crawfish, perch, and more illustrate the absolute need for fresh water to flow in an ecosystem.

It also shows how much a change in water can alter this. Dam up a creek or river and what happens to all that life underwater? What about the animals that feed on these creatures? What does it take to replace it?

Hence the dilemma facing our state. Cut back on agricultural water and what happens to the crops that depend on it? How do you replace that food source? What happens to the oxygen producing, waste water filtering abilities of our lawns if we let them fallow? What about the employees of businesses that rely on a source of water?

More than half of the nation's fruits, vegetables, and nuts come from California. The top three crops are almonds, dairy, and dairy products. Grapes are also huge here. The state exports over $20 billion dollars worth of agricultural products and the total production approaches $50 billion per year.

Since 1980, California agriculture has lessened its water use by about 5% while increasing crop yields at the same time. Farmers have utilize methods such as drip irrigation, tailwater return systems, irrigation scheduling, canal lining, water banking, and remote monitoring to increase water efficiencly.

Still, there are calls for agriculture to share in the current pain of the state's new 25% mandatory reduction.  Of course, that means less and more expensive food for the entire country not to mention killing jobs in an already high-unemployment area of the state.

Some restaurants in particularly hard-hit areas say they have to switch to disposable plates and utensils because they don't have enough water to wash dishes. Of course, that impacts landfills.

Hydroelectric dams need water to generate electricity, when they go offline, fossil fueled generators have to take their place.  River guides join the unemployment lines, as do car wash employees, gardeners, and more.

This is to show that knee-jerk reactions to just cut everybody's water have real-world consequences. It's all part of a big ecological puzzle and has to be carefully considered and implemented.

All that being said, the state does not have enough water to satisfy the long term demand if rain relief does not come soon.  Now the question is how to cut and who do we cut from.

It's hard to say which industries are water hogs. We have pretty good agriculture data and the recent fracking controversy shows that industry using 0.00062% of the state's water each year. Car washes mostly use recycled water. Other than that, it's hard to pinpoint various industries use of water (which is included in the residential alotment).

The other very large alotment of California water is for environmental uses. These are determined by court orders, legislation, and other factors and are generally non-negotiable without much litigation and legislation. Water savings here are generally considered 'off the table' and leaves us with the residential customer taking the hit.

We'll look at ways to whittle that 12% down to 9%, which is what the state is telling us we must do, on the next post.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sources: Bay Area Science Forum
California Department of Water Resources
Metropolitan Water District
Bakersfield Californian

Los Angeles Times
Washington Post

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saving the Planet, One Drop at a Time

It's Earth Week and we here at the Cheapskate Urban Gardener are in full agreement that we need to pull together to save our home.  Since we're in California and in a severe drought, we're going to focus on that, try to sort the myth from fact, and try to determine how we can be effective and responsible gardeners in these dry times.

We're going to start off with the big picture and work our way down to the effects on our local garden.

The headlines are scary...California has less than a year left of water; almonds are sucking the state dry; environmentalists won't let us use water because of the damage to insignificant species; farmers take 80% of the water and won't do anything to help.

But those are just scare headlines written to sell papers.  I've been going through weather statistics, state water board sites, and other sources to try to separate fact from scary headlines.

Let's make one thing clear at the start, however. Yes. This is a serious drought. No. It's not the first time this has happened to us. Yes. It's because it hasn't rained. No. It's not some politician's organized campaign to regulate our water and get more money (although there are those who 'never let a crisis go to waste' as the mayor of Chicago is famous for saying.

California actually has about two years worth of water in storage. With the state's increasingly stingy water use due to water restrictions, that time estimate can also grow.  In a real emergency, there are also decades of water storage in the ground but over pumping also causes other problems. Right now, reservoir levels are at about 40% when on a normal year in April, they'd be at around 65%.

Rain has actually increased just a bit over last year.  Fresno is an inch above last year, L.A. an inch and a half, San Francisco has doubled last year's total of 8 inches, and deserty El Centro has barely added half an inch. Since the rain year runs through June, and rain is forecast for this week, those totals will surely rise but odds are against them getting up to average, which is 11.5" for Fresno; 14.93" for L.A., and 3.44 for El Centro. San Francisco has a fighting chance to reach it's average of 20.78" though.

Not all of California's water comes from California. For very large parts of the southern end of the state, water is supplied by the Colorado River, running down from the Rockies. It's watershed snowpack is about 62% of normal right now.

Farmers currently use about 40% of the state's water, about half of the 80% many stories put out. Residential users are a little more than 10%. Most of the rest is for environmental uses, such as keeping wild and scenic rivers flowing, wetlands preservation, and habitat for various species.

One more myth...Los Angeles is a desert. No, Palm Springs, Mojave, Blythe, the Salton Sea, and Needles are the desert. Most of the Los Angeles area is naturally oak-studded grassland and is naturally green about half the year. Turning our lawns to gravel, like they do in Arizona, is not an answer but we could let them fallow for awhile in dry years.

Rain is pretty much a sure bet to return to the state, the big question is when and what do we do until then. Water is still necessary for a number of uses in this large, heavily populated state that supplies a huge chunk of food for the country and the world.

Next time, we'll explore some of those uses.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sources: Bay Area Science Forum
California Department of Water Resources
Metropolitan Water District

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Caging You Up for Your Own Good

Last year, the garden was devastated by animals coming down from the dry mountains to eat the succulent, tender shoots of my vegetables coming out of the ground. This year, I'm determined not to let that happen again, so the main theme of this weekend's gardening is animal repellent.

No, I'm not using any chemical or traps. I'm not interested in harming least proactively. My goal is, however, to make my plants look uninviting and a bit hazardous for critters to get to so maybe they'll find greener pastures to feed in.

This year, I've got new onion, tomato, zucchini, and corn seedlings.  There's already evidence that something has been chewing on the onion seedlings, which I left in the open after transplanting. No one seems interested in the corn, so I'll just leave that one alone.

So here's my plan...

I'm wrapping tomato cages in chicken wire.

It's a bit tricky when the wire comes on a roll to flatten it out so I can cut it. I hold it down with my foot and snip away.

After wrapping the cage, I make cuts in the edge at the top to form little spikes in case any animal gets adventurous and climbs up. The poke should make 'em think twice about going over the top.

All done.

I'm using the temporary wire cover I used for the tomato seedlings to cover the onion plants to give them a chance to survive the season.  Let's see how all this caging works out as the season goes.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

At the End of the Falls

This hanging basket of tomatoes is called 'cherry falls.' It didn't do real well it's first year but I left it alone and another year of benign neglect led to some pretty good harvests this year.

Tomatoes are not really known as perennials, however, and I think it's the end of the line for this plant.

Easy enough...I have a batch of cherry tomato seedlings in need of transplant so I dump the old plant, line with a plastic bag (with a few holes poked in it for drainage), and fill with mix.

Tada! The new seedlings are ready to go.

They're hung up, got their own dripper, and are being watered in. 

Let's see how they do.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Deep Sixing the Seedlings

OK, 4 weeks in the nursery is enough. Time for you kids to go out and earn your keep.

At two weeks, they were poking their tiny, little shoots above the mix.

Three weeks, they were starting to show their differences.

Now at four weeks, they're about to bust the pots...except for the onions, whose leaves still look a little weak.

Tilling the ground with a little Amend and then popping those seedlings into their slots for the season.

The roots are very healthy, as you can see in this pot of corn. They're fact, already I just pop 'em in the ground.

I need to find something to repel the pests. For now, I'm covering with some chicken wire, watering in, and then tend until harvest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blessed Are The Pollinators

Ah, the sweetest smell of spring. I'm talking about citrus flowers, or orange blossoms if you will. Nothing smells like it and it's heavenly.

Our little citrus grove is in full bloom. Well, the orange and lemon, anyway. The tangelo is still just in bud. 

The Cara Cara orange has these gorgeous white flowers.

While the Meyer lemon isn't to be outdone with its pink-tinged flowers.

Last week, I planted some lavender nearby to attract bees.

It may be working. Let's hope these busy pollinators give us a lot of fruit this year.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How To Train Your Dragon

Our dragonfruit plants grow like crazy. I've given over this corner of the yard to them, where they intertwine with our aloe plants.

We only get 4-8 fruit a year off of them, though, so last night at the local farmer's market, I found the grower who sold them to us and asked him how I could get more fruit.

Very simple, he said. Cut them back one third. It's March, do this and you'll have lots of flowers in May.

Easy peasy...some pruners, cut at the closest joint to one third of the way down (it's a cactus with thorns, leather gloves are a must), and that's it.

Cuttings in the waste bin, now just to wait until May to see what happens.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved